PJ Media

The Psychology of UCI's Muslim Student Union

No modern phenomenon has impacted college campuses today more than the Muslim Student Association/Union. Founded in 1963 by the Muslim Brotherhood — the same radical Sunni organization that spawned the terror group Hamas — the MSU has since made headlines around the country due to its militant and controversial rhetoric. The MSU, especially that of University of California at Irvine, is infamous for attracting charges of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, as well as for sparking the 2007 investigation of UCI for anti-Semitism. The MSU is no stranger to the First Amendment. Come May every year, the organizations hides behind it so its members can spout anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic remarks on college campuses. And just last February, MSU members at UCI attempted to use their right to free speech in order to deny Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren his own free speech, as Pajamas Media’s Roger L. Simon documented when he interviewed Oren for PJTV.

Despite all this, the MSU continues to grow unhindered on college campuses around the world. The questions that I and many others ask is: why?

In order to understand someone, we must explore how that person thinks.

The following is based on three years (and counting) of experiencing firsthand and researching the MSU’s actions at UC Irvine. In fact, the following can also be applied to members of other MSUs and most anti-Israel activists as well; I’ve noticed little difference between how the two parties act.

Psychologically speaking, the MSU is a radical student organization before anything else, even before Islam. Its members have totally and completely fallen in love with the image of the rebel, of collecting the general populace to rise up and strike down an oppressor. Not necessarily all the causes they protest for are wrong, but there is certainly a pattern among them all. If there is a power to rebel against, if there is an authoritative figure to fight, if there is an oppressor to struggle against, you can count on the MSU to be there. For example, the MSU has passionately organized against the UC system budget cuts as well as the arrests of the 11 students who attempted to silence Ambassador Michael Oren.

Both situations involve a higher power (the UC Regents, the police) negatively impacting a lower one (UC students, the MSU). The MSU’s primary focus, though, is rallying against Israel, and it usually goes about it in the most controversial of ways. From tearing up, burning, and throwing red paint on an Israeli flag to putting a kaffiyeh on an image of Anne Frank (suggesting that, if alive today, she would be anti-Israel), the MSU has made it plain that they enjoy pushing and transgressing boundaries. This again falls in line with MSU members’ intense love of the rebel’s image, something which has warped their view of law and order. Since rebels break the rules in order to be heard, they act with no regard for university rules. Since rebels do not back down from anyone, they have fostered an enjoyment in disrespecting anyone who disagrees with them. It evidently makes them feel big to stand up and look down on people who disagree with them.

Speaking from personal experience, I have seen MSU members shout “F**k you,” “Go back to Israel,” and “We will wipe you off the map” to pro-Israel and Jewish people. A few of my female friends have told me that when they got into discussions with male MSU members, they were told their opinions didn’t matter “because they were girls.” And on March 2, one MSU member at an anti-Israel rally took it upon himself to inform me I was a “faggot homo” for holding an Israeli flag. He remarked: “I didn’t know Israel was full of homos.” That same day, I saw at least two pro-Israel girls crying because they didn’t understand why the MSU was acting so hateful to them.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

We must consider what drives these students to such egregious acts of disrespect and hostility. What causes a person to get up in front of the school and rail against Jews?

I very much doubt that MSU members would be performing the actions that they do if they did not have a certain passion for whatever topics they engage in. This passion stems from a stubborn mindset that they have been wronged in some way. It is very possible they believe their cause — fighting for justice in Palestine — is surrounded by indifference or even hostility.

More likely, though, is the idea that they, as Muslims, feel that the West has wronged their demographic. Many times around campus, I’ve seen fliers posted by the MSU (or one of its offshoot clubs) demanding that the U.S. pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. If you peruse Facebook events and groups joined or hosted by the MSU, you will inevitably see its members posting their grievances about how the U.S. is murdering Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This political stance of course results from their being brought up in an Islamic community that shares the same views. Because the subject of their grievance is being carried out on a governmental level, there is very little chance that their actions will have any affect. I find it hard to believe this idea escapes them, but instead of deflating them it appears to instill in them a passion to move into activism — for this then falls into the category of protesting, of fighting for a righteous cause, of being a rebel.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that members of the MSU are acting more and more in the way of this “rebel” image. Perhaps most revealing is the comment made by Taher Herzallah, one of the three UC Riverside students who traveled to Irvine to try and interrupt Ambassador Oren’s speech on February 8. In an article in the Orange County Register, Herzallah says that he and his companions, in attempting to interrupt Oren’s speech, were “following in the footsteps of Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela.”

Ridiculous misconceptions aside, it’s safe to say that Herzallah is not the only one to feel this way. The results of the Michael Oren disruptions have only fueled the MSU’s protesting efforts. Every chancellor at every UC school, including UC President Mark Yudof, has publicly condemned the actions of the MSU disruptors. Once again, the feeling of being wronged, the feeling of great injustice being propagated by a powerful and sturdy system, only heightens these students’ passions and efforts.

In 2007, a girl who has become known as “OC Apostate” left Islam and the UC Irvine MSU after a difficult internal struggle. She was consequently threatened and socially ostracized for it by many in the Irvine Muslim community.

Of her experience within the MSU, OC Apostate told me during an interview: “Anyone who doesn’t agree with them or fit into their world doesn’t exist. Like the Michael Oren incident. They shouldn’t be allowed to exist or speak [as far as the MSU is concerned].”

What drives the MSU’s rhetoric and actions is not their own choice, according to OC Apostate. “To them it’s holy fire, not personal emotion. Emotion from God.”

Perhaps one factor that helps shield the MSU and anti-Israel community from defeatist feelings is the fact that there are so many of them. It’s no secret that the ratio of Muslim birthrates in the world compared to others is as high as 8 to 1. In addition to this, Irvine has one of the largest Muslim populations in the U.S. Therefore, a large anti-Israel Muslim community will undoubtedly prop up the morale of MSU members, even in the face of social and governmental opposition. Their large numbers may also play a factor in bolstering their mindset that allows them to act and publicly speak in such outrageous and offensive manners; no matter what the public response is, their own community is so large there is virtually no need to fear social rejection from outsiders.

What it all comes down to is the image of the rebel. The struggle. Fighting the good fight and acting with justice in your heart. MSU members believe themselves to be people of “good conscience,” as stated in their public condemnation of the Michael Oren event the morning before they disrupted it. The MSU’s critics believe that they are people of good conscience, as well. There is not an iota of difference between the emotions of both parties here, between our passion and their passion (the difference lies in our actions and motives, but that, for the moment, is beside the point). We both believe that we are acting in the name of “good” and that the opposing party is acting — however ignorantly — in the name of “evil.” Such convictions of personal righteousness coupled with all the other active factors in their psychology — especially their community’s aversion to and disregard for certain Western values and society — serve to create a train of thought that justifies breaking certain rules. For example, my understanding of their rationale for disrupting Ambassador Oren goes: “It is ok to attempt to shut down a pro-Israel event via constant interruption because the speaker represents an evil country that is guilty of the most heinous of crimes. The rules we plan to break — vocally interrupting a public event—mean nothing next to the laws he has broken. Our actions harm no one, but his have murdered thousands of people.”

And when this foaming ideology of self-righteousness and rebellion is beaten down by a higher authority? It turns into martyrdom, as is only befitting such a life-encompassing obsession. Within days of the Michael Oren incident, the MSU had “martyred” the eleven MSU disruptors as the “Irvine 11.” Such a name gives these students special status among their peers for rebelling against authority (a.k.a. breaking that law) and being punished for it, as they should be. This only serves to further justify — in their minds — that they were right in their actions and that such a corrupt system needs to be rebelled against. For how could it not be corrupt, if it prevented them from expressing themselves? They are either not aware of or are indifferent to the fact that their rhetoric offends and puts off so many people from their cause. For example, OC Apostate said, “I know three or four people who said they were sympathetic towards Palestinians, but the MSU made them not give a [care].” The martyred students further fuel the “God-given” emotion within them, and the process repeats itself.

So what can we do against this self-justifying, self-perpetuating ideology? How do we keep it from negatively impacting those of us who disagree with the MSU?

The answer is simple: defend, don’t attack.

Part of the reason so many neutral UCI students are turned off the by the MSU’s rhetoric is due to their purely antagonistic behavior. They do not defend a cause. They attack other people’s causes. And to the common uninvolved passer-by, this appears to be unnecessary and hateful. Given repetition, it also becomes obnoxious.

The MSU’s members already do half the work of delegitimizing themselves simply by opening their mouths. Therefore, there is no need to go on the offensive. That would only put people off of sympathizing with its critics. The other half of the work is to bring attention to them — but by defending ourselves and others from them, not attacking them for their rhetoric. Putting the MSU on the defensive only furthers their image of victimization which they adore so much.

There will come a time when the MSU will carry out an action so offensive that it will only make sense in the eyes of the everyday observer to quell such behavior in the name of civilized society. In fact, that time may have already come with the Michael Oren incident. Again, this shows that whenever MSU members are at their most passionate and opens their mouths, they almost always hurts themselves. We only need to swing the spotlight on them and show people the depths of their hateful holy fire.